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A Gerald Laird update, and Barajas salary issues

Another nice game tonight for Gerald Laird, as he goes 4 for 5 with a home run (his 8th), a stolen base (also his 8th), and a pickoff. If my back-of-the-envelope calculations are correct, Laird is now at .315/.389/.545 for the season at AAA, while Barajas is sitting at .223/.270/.354 for the Rangers.

Meanwhile, in the DMN Ranger newsletter, Evan Grant continued to throw cold water on our hopes that we'll be seeing Laird anytime soon, saying:

There is no doubt Rod Barajas hasn't been nearly as effective with the bat as he was at this time last year, but the Rangers aren't worried about that. They want him to catch and throw well. He's doing fine on both those fronts. He is second in the AL at throwing out runners, and at least some of the credit for the starting pitchers' 4.04 ERA goes to Barajas.

Laird is doing quite well at Oklahoma, but right now the Rangers are playing well with Barajas and Sandy Alomar Jr. behind the plate. For Laird to get the job back right now, it would require the same circumstances that cost him the job last year: Somebody would have to get hurt. Last year, it was Laird who lost the job because of injury. If either Barajas or Alomar gets hurt, expect to see Laird back in the big leagues quickly. If not, you may not see him until September. Or his name could surface in trade talks.

Laird is better offensively and defensively than Barajas, but continues to be Menched, to the point where I'm almost hoping he gets traded somewhere, so that he'll have a chance to play regularly in the majors again before he turns 30. I've thought for a while he was likely trade bait, particularly given the organization's fast-tracking of Mike Nickeas (suggesting that they see him being behind the plate at TBIA relatively quickly), but I continue to be concerned about 1) whether the Rangers would really get fair value for him, and 2) what this does to the catching situation in 2006.

Nickeas isn't going to be ready for the start of next season. He wasn't hitting in AA as it was, and he's now likely to be out until late July with a broken thumb. So the in-house options for the catching job in 2006 are Laird and Barajas.

However, Barajas's salary situation and arbitration status makes this a lot more complicated than it initially would seem. The Rangers avoided arbitration with Barajas this past offseason by agreeing to a one year, $1.85 million deal -- a contract that seemed pretty ludicrous at the time, given that comparable catchers were signing deals for half as much.

But the Barajas contract becomes more problematic if the Rangers have an interest in keeping him around past the 2005 season. Barajas is arbitration-eligible after the season, and even given his poor performance this year, he'd likely be looking at an arbitration award in the $2-3 million range for the 2006 season. There's simply no way the Rangers can justify paying a backup caliber player like Barajas that sort of salary, particularly given the budgetary constraints Tom Hicks has placed the team under.

Even if the Rangers wish to avoid arbitration with Barajas, under the CBA, the Rangers cannot re-sign him to a one year deal for less than 80% of what he made in 2005, or $1.48 million, still more than what a backup catcher is generally going to be paid. And that presumes that Barajas is willing to take that sort of paycut voluntarily. Otherwise, the Rangers are going to have to non-tender or waive Barajas, making him a free agent, and then attempt to re-sign him.

As a result, the suggestion I've seen made quite often for 2006 -- that Barajas and Laird both make the team, and duke it out for playing time -- isn't necessarily a viable option, because it necessitates making a financial commitment to Barajas that isn't really justifiable. And dealing Laird at the trade deadline would simply serve to paint the Rangers farther into a corner, since it would likely require them to either go to arbitration with Barajas -- and pay him about three times what he's probably really worth -- or else non-tender him, forcing them to go into the offseason with no catchers on the 40 man roster, and requiring the team to find a starter, a backup, and an emergency catcher to stash at AAA.